Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest not-for-profit managed-care provider, has stopped prescribing Bextra until tests show whether the painkiller is safe.
The decision came amid “compelling” evidence of heightened heart risks associated with Bextra and a similar drug called Vioxx that manufacturer Merck & Co. pulled from the market in September, according to a company memo Kaiser issued late Friday.
Kaiser spokeswoman Beverly Hayon said the policy, which Kaiser is calling a moratorium, represents the first time the health system’s doctors had decided to stop dispensing a drug that was approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
The Oakland-based HMO, hospital and clinic network, which serves 8.5 million patients in nine states and the District of Columbia, plans to stop filling new prescriptions for Bextra on Feb. 1 and on March 1 for refills.
Physicians will be notified with suggestions for alternative medicines they can prescribe. Bextra, made by Pfizer Inc., is most often recommended for arthritis patients.
“This is not a drug that saves lives,” said Dr. Sharon Levine, who oversees medication usage for Kaiser Permanente’s Northern California division. “It’s a drug that provides a modest degree of pain relief no better than Motrin and the size of the risk, given the benefit provided, did not seem warranted.”